I have visited Hidcote several times before with my family but it’s been a few years since my last visit, so when we were trying to choose somewhere to go at the weekend a trip there seemed like a good idea! From my house in Oxfordshire it takes around an hour to reach Hidcote by car, heading North along the A424 to Hidcote Bartrim, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, GL55 6LR. Once you arrive at the edge of the estate, follow a long tree lined driveway up to the car park.
Although there is a manor house at Hidcote, built in 1664, the main focus is most definitely Major Lawrence Johnston’s beautiful gardens. Johnston was born to wealthy American parents in Paris on 12 October 1871, where he was educated at home until moving to study classics at Cambridge in 1893. After graduating in 1900 he became a naturalised British citizen and on joining The Imperial Yeomanry (British volunteer cavalry regiment) fought in the Boer War. In 1902 he joined The Northumberland Hussars (British Territorial Army Squadron) and served in First World War attaining the rank of Major.
In 1907, Johnston’s mother (Then Mrs Winthrop) brought the Hidcote Manor and Estate in Gloucester where Johnston, now 35, had the opportunity to pursue his passion for gardening. Over the next 40 years the estate blossomed from an exposed field with a few trees to one of the country’s greatest Arts and Crafts gardens. He began work by planting evergreen oaks and hedges of holly, hornbeam, beech and yew to provide shelter from the wind, and by doing so also created a series of garden ‘rooms’ and corridors. From here he focused mostly on the areas closest to the manor, creating: The Maple Garden, The Fuchsia Garden, The Bathing Pool and The White Garden. In order to fill the growing garden ‘rooms’ with equally interesting plants Johnston travelled the world on many plant collecting expeditions, visiting: The Andes, Burma, South Africa, France, Alps and Yunnan in China. Between 1914-20, each garden ‘room’ was planted following a classical style, influenced by Johnston’s visits to France and Italy. During this time he also created Mrs Winthrop’s Garden, using a theme inspired by the Mediterranean. In 1915 The pavilions and The Stilt Garden were lain out forming the final part of the corridor running west of the house. Around this time Johnston developed a close friendship with socialite garden designer Norah Lindsay, whose lived nearby in Sutton Courtenay Manor, Oxfordshire.
Between 1920-1930 Johnston continued to expand the garden southward with The Long Walk and The Wilderness, as well as The Pillar garden. The addition of The Long Garden helped to create the garden’s other corridor, running from The Pavilions through hedges of hornbeam. In 1924 Johnston brought what would become his second most famous garden in Serre de la Madone, near Menton, on the Mediterranean coast of France. Unfortunately a few years later in 1926 his mother (Mrs Winthrop) passed away, leaving Hidcote Manor and Gardens solely to Johnston. Although not there anymore, during the 1930’s Hidcote was home to exotic birds like flamingos and rhea, taking residence in The Wilderness with their very own shelter and pool. The 1930’s also brought the Hidcote estate into the public eye, when two articles about the gardens were published in Country Life magazine.
From 1945 as his health began to worsen Johnston started to spend more time at his estate in Serre de la Madone, France and as a result the National Trust acquired Hidcote in 1948, welcoming visitors in 1949. Johnston passed away on 27th April 1958 and was buried next to his mother close by his beloved gardens in the churchyard at Mickleton, near Hidcote. While the National Trust own Hidcote in Gloucester, Johnston left his garden in Serre de la Madone, Menton to Nancy Lindsay, the daughter of Norah Lindsay. Unfortunately she did not continue his work there as he had intended for her to.
Walled Garden ‘Rooms’
On leaving the car park, you pass through a separate set of buildings which contain the barn cafe, toilets and a large courtyard with plants for sale. Heading right, you then enter The Courtyard in front of Hidcote Manor which leads you up to the main front door. You do get the chance to explore a few rooms downstairs within the manor before heading out a side door into The Maple and The White gardens. As the name suggests each garden is like a small carefully designed ‘room’, many of which are symmetrical in design but vary in planting. I really love the old cobbled stoned paths and towering hedges which divide each ‘room’, giving a real feeling of walking through secret, hidden gardens. Moving through these gardens you pass through The Old Garden, which is divided up by a small strip of lawn overlooked by the beautiful manor house. As you would expect the plant selection is incredible, including trailing, climbing wisterias, orange spotted lilies and purple dahlias.
We decided to continue on through the grassed Circle Garden, down into The Fuchsia Garden and then into The Bathing Pool Garden. The large topiary birds on top of the separating hedges between The Fuchsia and Bathing Pool Gardens are really amazing! Leading off to the right is a small covered area, beautifully painted and covered in interesting tiled designs. From here we explored The Poppy Garden, Hydrangea Corner and Central Stream Garden before heading back up to the Upper Stream Garden and Mrs Winthrop’s Garden.
Gardens and Lawns
After passing through The Winter and Red Borders you are greeted by The Long Walk. Walking down the long grassed corridor you are able to enjoy views over the Cotswolds, and pass through The Wilderness. We headed back along the edge of The Long Walk and found several bee hives before reaching The Pillar Garden, The Alpine Terrace and Stilt Gardens. Towards the edge of the estate you can explore The Rock Bank, The Bulb Slope and The Lower Stream Garden, while looking out over the surrounding fields and woodland.
Kitchen Gardens and Orchard
Once we had finished exploring the main gardens we headed onto The Great Lawn to have some lunch before passing through The Garden Yard to visit The Pine Garden and Lily Pond, next to the beautiful glass and wood plant house. From here we walked past The Tennis Court (Johnston’s favourite sport!) around the Kitchen Garden which was fully of courgettes, onions, potatoes and lettuce that once would have supplied the Manor house kitchens. We didn’t get a chance to visit The Beech Alleé, but instead followed the path past an open bee hive, which was really interesting to see inside! Heading down The Long Borders we finished up our visit in The Orchard which was full of delicious looking apples 🙂
The weather was really kind to us when we visited, which was brilliant as it meant we could explore all the gardens in our own time and enjoy the sunshine! If you want to visit every single garden properly you could definitely spend quite a few hours here, however I would still recommend Hidcote even if you only have time for a quick visit. It is obvious that Johnston really put his heart into every part of the gardens, with every ‘room’ having a different style and theme. Exploring the gardens definitely feels as though you have stumbled into a series of secret gardens that seem to go on forever and ever! As would be expected with so many beautiful plants and flowers around there is plenty of wildlife to see and hear, including: Butterflies, bees and birds throughout all the gardens, owls, bats and foxes in the evening, grass snakes in The Wilderness and Lily Pond, and great crested newts in The Bathing Pond.
We decided to bring a picnic and enjoy it on The Great Lawn, however if you fancy a light lunch there is a cafe in the barn or for a hot meal try the Winthorp’s Cafe and Conservatory attached to the main manor house. If you are in the area I would definitely recommend visiting Hidcote Manor and Gardens! The gardens at Hidcote are usually open every day from 10am until 5pm, with the Barn cafe, Winthorp’s Cafe, Shop and Plant Sales also opening every day but staying open an hour later, 10am to 6pm. As National Trust members we got in for free however at £10 for an adult, £5 for a child and £25 for a family I think it is worth the price for all you get to explore and enjoy 🙂
A Day in the Life…